Thursday, June 15, 2017

Op-Ed: Anyone Using Pittsburgh As An Excuse To Go Soft On The Environment Knows Nothing About Pittsburgh

By Joseph Sabino Mistick

The following op-ed appeared in the Tribune Review on June 10 under the title, “Lawrence’s Political Courage” -- 

Anyone who uses Pittsburgh as an excuse to go soft on environmental controls knows nothing about Pittsburgh or the value of a healthy environment. “Beautiful Pittsburgh,” never a sure thing, only exists because of a first-term mayor's political courage in the years after World War II.
David L. Lawrence was elected mayor in 1945 after promising to clean up the environment, a policy he pursued without compromise. And if it had cost him re-election four years later, as it seemed it might, neither Lawrence nor Pittsburgh would be celebrated today.
The Pittsburgh of those days is hard to imagine now. During the war, factories and mills ran full-tilt, covering everything and everyone with soot and grime. The air stunk, there were no shiny cars, clean shirts lasted but an hour and no one could breathe easily.
Michael P. Weber, in “Don't Call Me Boss,” a history of Lawrence and his city, describes Lawrence's single-minded pursuit of a clean environment. “Smoke Must Go!” was his unofficial campaign slogan.
And in his first inaugural address, he said, “I am convinced that our people want to clean up the air. … There is no other single thing which will so dramatically improve the appearance, the health, the pride, the spirit of the city.”
He immediately sent the state Legislature a collection of bills dubbed the “Pittsburgh Package,” giving him the tools he needed for America's greatest urban-redevelopment project.
He got what he wanted, including smoke-control regulations for the railroads.
But Lawrence's real test would come when he decided to enforce a pre-war smoke-control law that had been suspended for wartime production. It applied to commerce and industry, and he could have left it at that, playing it safe.
Instead, he extended the ban on soft coal to homeowners, requiring them to convert their furnaces to cleaner fuel. It was a real gamble because it hurt his base — the working class — the most.
But he bet his career on it.
His political enemies pounced. The mayor's office and city newspapers were flooded with letters and petitions protesting the policy. Union leaders called for a delay or change. Citizens packed public meetings, demanding relief.
Eddie Leonard, a tough-talking councilman from East Liberty, challenged Lawrence in the 1949 Democrat primary. But he never flinched, never backed off of his smoke-control regulations.
He won the primary, but his victory was closer than it should have been.
Still, that was the moment when “Beautiful Pittsburgh” was born.
None of it — not Lawrence's own Renaissance, Joe Barr's Three Rivers Stadium, Pete Flaherty's reform and fiscal discipline, Dick Caliguiri's Renaissance II, Sophie Masloff's Crawford Square and Technology Center and Regional Asset District, Tom Murphy's Lawrence Convention Center and housing developments and stadiums, even Bill Peduto's bike lanes and bike racks — would have been possible, but for Lawrence's political gamble.
He had the political courage to put Pittsburgh's future ahead of his own future. He fought for a healthy city, a clean environment.
And it paid off big.
Joseph Sabino Mistick, Associate Professor of Law, Duquesne University.  He can be contacted at 412-396-5253 or send email to:

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